Vilém Flusser thinks that Brazilian culture is, in its essence, structurally ahistorical, although it has been profoundly influenced by history. “Eclecticism” and “devouring” (cannibalizing) culture are elements that recur frequently in Flusser’s thinking, and were also essential aspects of the modernist movement in Brazil at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The new styles of modernism and the European avant-garde were introduced to Brazil by visual artists, including Tarsila do Amaral, Victor Brecheret, Di Cavalcanti, Anita Malfatti, Candido Portinari, Vicente do Rego Monteiro, and Lasar Segall; by writers such as Mário de Andrade, Manuel Bandeira, Oswald de Andrade, Antônio Castilho de Alcântara Machado d’Oliveira, and Cassiano Ricardo; and by musicians and composers, for example, Heitor Villa-Lobos. As champions of an aesthetic revolution that broke with the conservative art movements linked with Brazilian Academic Art, this generation of modern artists wanted much more than just to reproduce foreign aesthetic canons. One of their main demands was that any “imported” influences must be filtered critically, and modern art must interweave styles, themes, motives, sounds, colors, and shapes perceived as essentially Brazilian. Magazines were important tools for disseminating their modernist ideas (Klaxon, Revista de Antropofagia, A Revista, Festa, Terra Roxa e Outras Terras), along with manifestos (Pau-Brasil, 1924; Verde-Amarelo, 1929). Oswald de Andrade, one of the main proponents of modernism, championed the creation of a new Zeitgeist that would encourage a renewal of art in Brazil. With his critique of European linear and logical reasoning and his awareness of “overcoming” history and colonialism, de Andrade’s position was that the art of all ethnic groups and cultures living in Brazil should be included: Native American, African, Latin American, and European. A result of this was de Andrade’s ”Cannibal Manifesto” (Manifesto Antropófago, 1928). Flusser, who considered de Andrade as one of the pillars of Brazilian philosophy, included in his thinking many of the suggestions developed by de Andrade (for instance, the idea of a new human, technicized and playing) and the ideas of other Brazilian modernists – and became a “devourer” himself. According to Flusser, the consumed product “disinforms” (“A Consumidora Consumida,” in: Comentário, vol. 13, no. 51, 1972).
For Mário de Andrade, modernism is characterized by the combination of three main principles: “the permanent right to aesthetic research; updating of the Brazilian artistic intelligentsia; and establishing a national creative consciousness” (Mário de Andrade, “O Movimento Modernista” , in: Aspectos da Literatura Brasileira, 1978, p. 242; translated from the Portuguese). None of this was actually new. The real innovation consisted in combining these aspects to create new aesthetics that had the goal of an intellectual “liberation,” both in terms of forms and themes with a focus on national and regional roots.
The Semana de Arte Moderna, the “Modern Art Week” (São Paulo, 1922), was the first collective event in Brazil characterized by this new spirit in the visual arts, literature, architecture, and music. Although there had been precursors in the 1910s, the impact and resonance of this new spirit fostered new trends, influencing the 1930s generation – particularly Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Graciliano Ramos – and also a third generation as of 1945, with the important gures João Guimarães Rosa and Clarice Lispector, whom Flusser admired because of their independent style. With regard to literature, for Flusser the philosopher this is why it was “not the famous 1922 Modern Art Week (in which avant-garde literature originated) that was the true revolution in Portuguese literature, but the Bossa Nova – not as music, but as the introduction of a new rhythm in poetry” (Bodenlos, 1992, p. 88; translated from the German).